Pandemic Response City Project

Freetown, Sierra Leone: Waste Management Micro-Enterprise Program


In 2021, the City of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was selected as a grantee of the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF), the MMC’s instrument to channel international funding directly to cities to implement inclusive projects of their own design. 

With support from the GCF, Freetown created a waste management program that loaned tricycles to 40 micro-enterprises run by youth living in informal settlements—many of whom are rural

migrants—to collect waste and improve the city’s public sanitation. This project helped 240 young migrants find work and pay back 80 percent of the cost of each tricycle, which the city is using to establish additional youth enterprises and expand the project’s impact.

Using these loan repayments and additional US$1.5 million investment from a multilateral development bank, Freetown has since expanded the project to support more microenterprises and advance the city’s sustainable growth.


Over the past 20 years, Freetown, the largest city in Sierra Leone, has seen its population double. This growth is driven largely by internal mobility, including individuals displaced during and after the Sierra Leone Civil War and who moved from rural to urban areas due to the adverse impacts of climate change on rural livelihoods.

As a result of rapid urban growth and inadequate urban planning, over 35 percent of Freetown’s 1.2 million residents live in low-income informal settlements marked by overcrowding, sanitation concerns, and income insecurity. 

Waste management concerns are particularly acute in informal settlements, where up to 44 percent of residents report that they dispose of their refuse in open drainage, contaminating the environment and contributing to the spread of water-borne diseases and direct-contact infections. Public health issues became especially prominent following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


As a recipient of the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, Freetown City Council (FCC) expanded the pilot phase of its Waste Management Microenterprise Program funded by the EU and IOM. The program supported youth living in informal settlements to improve their livelihood opportunities and the public health of their communities.

The GCF grant helped Freetown expand the program by adding 40 new microenterprise teams collecting household waste, employing 240 additional migrant youth and collecting waste from households and public spaces.

Freetown provided each microenterprise with initial business investment support: a motorized tricycle cart, sanitation tools, business registration, assistance opening a bank account, and business development mentoring.

The microenterprise program includes an innovative loan repayment scheme where a portion of the cost of the tricycles is provided as a loan and paid back over two years through a ‘pay as you earn’ model. This unlocks funding for more youth to participate in the program as funds are reimbursed. 

Through the momentum generated by the expansion of the program, FCC also worked with waste collection groups around the city to form a waste collectors’ union, the Waste Collection Management Association. 

The GCF grant and micro-enterprise teams also supported FCC to clear and close three illegal dumpsites in Freetown. Waste pickers can now take their waste to one of seven newly established transfer stations or legal dumpsites in the city. 


Through its GCF grant, Freetown employed 240 youths from informal settlements in green jobs, 75 percent of whom were migrants and IDPs and 30 percent of whom were women. Over 65 percent of youth waste enterprises supported by the GCF grant reported profits from November 2021 to April 2022. These livelihood opportunities have transformed lives – one waste collector used his income from the micro-enterprise to pay his college tuition fees, recently graduating as a lawyer. 

Two years after the project began, the micro-enterprises supported by the GCF grant are still collecting waste and earning income. To date, 80 percent of participants from the GCF grant phase have fully paid off their tricycle loan, enabling the city to establish 20 additional youth enterprises since the end of their GCF grant and expand the project’s impact.

The project also registered over 2,600 households for waste collection from the micro-enterprises, reducing illegal dumping and improving health and hygiene conditions in informal settlements.  By 2022, the total waste collection rate in Freetown increased to 34 percent and by 2023, 1,200 waste collectors were involved in the program. 

Using this project as proof of concept, Freetown unlocked an additional US$1.5 million in funding from a multilateral development bank to support this and other programs supporting sustainable growth in Freetown.


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